Apple's Critics are a Bag of Hurt

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

-- Theodore Roosevelt

Apple is a high profile company. As such, they're a constant target for scrutiny, even attack by writers -- more so than by customers. For example, pick any writer at random who covers Apple, even me, and write the name down. Walk into an Apple retail store and ask any customer at random: "Hey, have you ever heard of this guy?" (Or gal.)  Most would just shrug and say: "Who?" Perhaps a modest fraction would recognize the name David Pogue, but only because they have one of his Missing Manuals.

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The upshot is that Apple has many millions of customers. Most go about their business, call friends and family on their iPhone and pay their bills on-line. Only a small percentage are in an uproar at any given time, and that's the key to understanding all the fuss.

But if you listen to the groundswell of writing on the Internet lately, you'd think that Apple is in big trouble. The facts just don't bear that out.

Here's a list of so-called issues and my take.

The Facts

Google Voice. My estimate is that very few mainstream Apple customers would be bitter about the absence of this service let alone have a need for its exotic features. In any case, what Apple and AT&T decide to do, in their own best interest, is a business issue, not a crime against the community of users. Daniel Eran Dilger has correctly pointed out that the situation with Verizon could be much, much worse.

FCC regulators, thank goodness, are finally doing their job. That's okay. If Apple and AT&T is doing anything illegal, we'll find out about it. If the FCC wants to make a ruling that some activity of Apple or AT&T is henceforth illegal, they will comply.

In the meantime, even the Congress hasn't been able to make it perfectly clear, by law, that customers have a right to unlock their phones, so I doubt if the minor business practices of AT&T and Apple will be declared a National Crisis. For the record, the organizations that have lobbied for or cheered for such government scrutiny include the advocacy group Free Press and advocacy group Public Knowledge.

App Store. Apple has put a stake in the ground. It's going to protect the privacy and security of its iPhone customers. In addition, the indecency clause and 17+ rule are part of the agreement developers sign to use the SDK. Apple has been upfront about its motives, despite occasional human error and judgment issues leading to App Store rejections. (See the preamble quote above.) 70,000 apps have been put through the system. A tiny percentage have been rejected, mostly for good reason -- according to the contractual standards agreed upon.

iTunes. No court has declared Apple or Apple's iTunes an illegal monopoly. There are lots of sources for music. Claiming that Apple should be subject to the scrutiny that a regulated monopoly receives is without merit. Using the monopoly argument to claim that Apple should open iTunes to the Palm Pre and other competitors is therefore also without merit.

Anticompetitive Tactics. I find this term being thrown around without precision. The word is closely associated with the violation of antitrust laws. See above.

Apple has to Change. Apple is subject to shareholders, accounting rules, law and legal precedent, patent law and contracts signed with partners. The story of its focus on innovation and excellence has been told countless times. When I read about how Apple has to change, I get the distinct feeling that people want Apple to mimic the Free Software Foundation. What Apple is really doing is providing value for a price. (And it does listen to its customers.)  If we don't like the value proposition, we can all run Linux and pick a new mobile phone. I don't see fundamental changes at Apple coming because of Internet rants.

One of the real dangers of the Internet is that trendy thoughts can percolate so quickly throughout the blogosphere that they can form a raging river. This river splashes up on the shores of writers, especially those who've been writing about PCs all their careers, and turns into what seems to be a valid technical observation. In fact, it's just me-too-ism and grumbling. Perhaps even mob psychology. Add a healthy dose of envy and desire to cut down to size an irritating competitor to Microsoft, and you get what passes for modern Internet journalism. 

I see all the fuss right now as a tempest in a teapot. Apple might need to make some adjustments, born of competitive pressures, but that's what running a big, high profile company is all about.

Looking at Real Problems

Now, if Apple were to do something really questionable, I'd say so. I (along with everyone else) was deeply saddened that a Foxconn employee recently lost his life in a scandal regarding a missing iPhone 4G prototype. I expressed my lament that corporate secrets, vital to financial success, can indirectly lead to such severe consequences. 

I was annoyed that Apple responded the way it was reported they did when a girl in the UK had her iPod overheat and explode - apparently after it was dropped. I'll be upfront with my opinion that a proposed, onerous settlement agreement that prevents the injured party from disclosing the terms of the agreement, while a common legal practice, is dishonorable. Thank goodness the father, to my knowledge, didn't sign it.

A decade ago, I wrote about abuse of power when Apple seized from a Canadian teenager a Domain Name which he had legally obtained. The problem was, again, not Apple's legal rights but how the company wielded its considerable power against a minor.

I cite these examples for one reason only. I get wound up when individuals are abused, in some fashion -- especially children. Not so much when there's a feature we crave from Apple but can't have. Lately, Apple has been simply engaged in protecting its intellectual property, fighting the competition and safeguarding the privacy and security of its iPhone customers.

This apparently annoys some other tech writers.


OK. Next time, back to the iTablet features.